White Collar: "At What Price"
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White Collar: "At What Price"

B

White Collar

"At What Price"

Season 5, Episode 1

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Peter just can’t catch a break lately. Early into Season 4, he was demoted for abetting Neal’s evasion of FBI bounty hunters. And as we open on Season 5, he’s in cuffs and a jumpsuit, framed for the murder of Senator Pratt. The actual killer, Neal’s father James, has vanished (good to know ya, Treat Williams), and the evidence—all of the wrong-place-wrong-time variety, but substantial nonetheless—is mounting against Peter. 

It might have been interesting if several episodes were spent manipulating Agent Burke’s way out of wrongful incarceration. Alas, as with his aforementioned exile to clerical work, our goodly hero was not long for lesser circumstances. In fact, by premiere’s end, Peter has been elevated to head of the White Collar division as grooming for an eventual D.C. gig. Still, you get the feeling that before all is conned and completed, he’ll pay the price for what Neal leveraged to free him from behind those icy prison bars.

At Peter’s indictment, a spoken, authenticated confession comes to light from James himself, letting Peter off the hook. He doesn’t know how Neal tracked dear old dad, let alone coaxed the admission of guilt, but he’s grateful. Not yet suspicious. Just happy to be free, back busting baddies and in the warm embrace of his dear Elizabeth. But once the high wears off, Peter’s instincts catch up, telling him this is all too convenient. Not to mention, he realizes that, according to his anklet monitor, Neal’s literally been standing still in one spot for several hours. Mr. Caffrey is a lot of things, but sedentary isn’t one of them.

Burke is right to have a hunch. Turns out that as he idled away in jail, Neal and Mozzie cooked up quite a get-out-of-the-slammer recipe. All it required was a bit of voice manipulation via Mozz’s latest illicit software. That, and one added special ingredient—turns out Neal’s old foe the Dutchman aka Curtis Hagen is back (Mark Sheppard, re-raising the bar for silly, sneering White Collar villains), touching up gallery paintings on a work-release program. Hagen summons' Neal and offers to convince a federal prosecutor in his pocket to back off Burke’s indictment, so long as Neal snatches a couple million in gold Welsh coins he needs to square a debt. 

Mozzie smells a rat, sensing such a score is pocket change for the Dutchman. Neal blows it off. Neal is wrong. But he’s also desperate, a quality that aided his illegal affairs but has proven a hindrance when ultimately trying to do what’s best (hence Peter’s predicament to begin with). Besides, had he intuited the Dutchman was double-crossing, we’d have been deprived an old-fashioned Neal/Mozzie caper, complete with Neal posing as a firefighter (a little Magic Mike paean there, perhaps?) and Mozz donning a ludicrous wig and goatee while threatening to jump off the roof above where the coins are vaulted (thus allowing Neal to sneak in, evacuate tenants and go about his business). 

There’s not exactly tension in the sequence, since we know Neal will find what he needs, fill up the compressor tanks on his back with stolen loot and escape undetected. Instead, we spend quite a bit of time with Mozzie as a paranoid war vet on the edge of utter despair, doing his best to play along with a patronizing Emergency Service cop talking him down. It’s a strange source for comic relief, and Mozzie is less than smooth stepping away from his quasi-suicide mission (he could have at least feigned gradual acquiescence to fulfill the rouse), but watching Neal’s right-hand man worm his way through a heist while Neal clinically executed his task was a nice role reversal. 

As it happens, this is mere table-setting for the most entertaining and pivotal action of “At What Price.” Once again, without proper time to strategize, Neal’s plans and best intentions go awry. The tanks with Hagen’s gold are taken away by a probie and back to the firehouse. Before Neal and Mozz can barely formulate a recovery tactic, Peter’s already been tipped to the theft and it’s his first big case since returning to the FBI. The race is on. 

In what turns into an inventive, comical and deftly screwball chain of events, Peter and Neal head down to the station, Neal with ulterior motives. He gets his revenge on the poor probie, diverting him long enough to set the stage for an accidental grease fire. With Peter helping to squash the blaze, Neal bolts upstairs to the tanks, and a ridiculous but admirably resourceful bit of nonsense, funnels them through a fire hose and out the window to Mozz, who’s waiting below with a baby carriage. It was all like something out of a silent movie, and one of those White Collar moments where you imagine the cast and crew are sharing equal childlike joy over their shenanigans. 

But later, at home with Elizabeth, staring at that anklet monitor and mulling whether Neal’s been up to no good, Peter has an epiphany: If he wants to always be there for his loved ones—including Elizabeth, the now pregnant Diana, Jones and even Neal—he needs to distance himself from the Burke/Caffrey, captor/captured dynamic. The next day, he arrives at Neal’s with a new anklet in hand and the solemn news that he’ll be under the much stricter supervision of a new handler. Peter has finally realized it’s time for a change if he truly values the constants in his life, which are family and the honest pursuit of justice. 

Deep down, he hopes his actions set an example for Neal (who’s now more or less indentured to the Dutchhman, who documented Neal’s thievery on hidden cameras for posterity), and this his young charge won’t be content with stationary complacency of that blip on Peter’s tracking device. Good thing is, along the way, we’ll get treated to several cat-and-mouse scenarios: Neal dodging his new boss while doing the Dutchman’s bidding; Neal keeping his actions off Peter’s radar; and Peter staying off prosecutors’ wanted lists as Neal continues working off the price of his mentor’s freedom. So long as Hagen’s dialogue is at a minimum, should be worth coming off the ledge for.

Stray observations:

  • Bruce, the FBI Section Chief, looked quite a bit like Chris Berman at first blush.
  • Wow, Diana is reallllly pregnant.
  • There’s gotta be a deleted scene somewhere showing when and how Neal acquired the fireman’s gear.
  •  How come “Out of the frying pan into the firehouse” wasn’t the episode title? Mozz gets no respect. 
  • Nice panicked zoom on Neal after Peter says his new case is the missing coins.
  • Mozz isn’t his sharpest lately either. The plan to make a decoy call to FDNY so they can snatch the tanks? Good thing he wound up finding that baby carriage. 
  • The fire-station chief sure looked familiar. Anyone?
  • I can’t believe this shows’ been on for nearly half a decade.
Filed Under: TV, White Collar

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